A motion to review the imports of calves to the Netherlands was recently passed in the Dutch House of Representatives.

When debating the motion in the Hague, the subject of Irish calves being exported to the Netherlands was raised by Dutch politicians.

One call came from the leader of the Party for the Animals and its parliamentary group in the House of Representatives, Esther Ouwehand, to “stop importing calves from Ireland“.

The motion was put forward by House of Representatives member members Tjeerd de Groot and Pieter Grinwis on the size and interests of Dutch dairy farming in the organisation of veal farming.

Taking into account that just “10% of the veal produced in the Netherlands is consumed by Dutch people,” the motion referred to the large numbers of calf imports into the country.

It stated: “The Netherlands imports approximately 800,000 calves annually, fattens 1.8 million calves and slaughters more than 1.5 million calves.

“There are many animal welfare and health problems in the calf sector, partly due to the undeveloped immune system of the young calves,” the motion read.

The motion was passed on Thursday, February 1 with 131 votes in favor and 19 against, but it is unclear at this time what action the Dutch government will take in response to the motion.

During the debate of the motion, de Groot called for the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality to “make sure that veal husbandry is focused on Dutch calves.

“Dutch dairy farmers often receive a lower amount because of those calves from abroad,” he added.

Ouwehand continued during the debate by saying “in Ireland and Lithuania, very young calves are taken from their mothers and put in a lorry.

“If they’re lucky, there are drinking systems in there, but those poor animals don’t know how they work. They only know how to drink from the mother, that’s how young they are.

“They’re in the truck. If they come from Ireland, they are even on the boat. These transports take much longer than eight hours.

“We have been hearing for twenty years that the Dutch government believes that transports of animals should not be longer than eight hours. So everyone finds this unacceptable,” Ouwehand added.

Piet Adema, the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality responded to Ouwehand and reflected on the maximum journey times needed for imported calves.

“We really need Europe to do it, I cannot put it any other way, to limit the transport distance of young calves from Ireland, for example, to eight hours.

“I do need 27 member states, or at least a qualified majority in this regard, to support me in this. So far, I haven’t seen that,” he added.

The table below outlines the number of Irish calves exported by destination in the first 49 weeks of 2021, 2022 and 2023. For the purpose of this table, calves are classified as bovine animals under three months of age:

Source: DAFM

In December, the European Commission proposed to implement legislation on the minimum age for unweaned calves to be transported.

These proposals would see a minimum age of five weeks and minimum weight 50kg for unweaned calves to be transported.

There will also be a journey of nine hours maximum for animals transported for slaughter under these proposals.